Child Molestation in Nigeria

Key words: Child Molestation, victims, perpetrators, incest, Nigeria.


Child Molestation in Nigeria. Does child molestation exist in Nigeria? Can the perpetrators be easily identified?

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) :

Child molestation is another word for child sexual abuse. The child is involved sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend and does not give informed consent.

And the child is involved in sexual activity that he/she is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent.

Also that the sexual activity violates the laws or social taboos of the society.

Child molestation is a sexual activity between a child and an adult, or another child. The relationship between the two is linked to a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. This relationship is intended to gratify or satisfy the other person’s needs.

What is consent?

Child molestation is a serious violation of child’s rights and well being. The legal cut off age for the definition of a child is 18 years, in Nigeria. A child before this age of 18 years cannot give consent because he/she cannot comprehend the meaning of sex.  The child can only give assent. In consent, the person gives permission for something to happen. Assent means to give in or comply. Sexual activity with a child, who gives assent, is an abuse. And in CSA, inducement or coercion is usually involved.

How common is child molestation in Nigeria?

The exact prevalence of child sexual abuse in Nigeria is not known, but it is known to be highly common. And a great number of cases are not reported.

Gender prevalence:

Child molestation in Nigeria have more victims as females than in males. That is, 1: 4 girls and 1: 10 boys are victims in Nigeria. One study gave a prevalence of 5% to 15% of males in Nigeria having had CSA. While the perpetrators are more males than females.

Situational prevalence:

The estimated prevalence rate in Nigeria is documented to be between 5% to 38%.  And among female hawkers in the southeast, the prevalence is said to be as high as 70%. Rape occurred in 46.2% of CSA in the southwest. In a 2012 – 2013 study at University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), 70% of the sexual assaulted were children. At Ebonyi state teaching hospital in 2013, 94% of CSA cases were females, with a ratio of 15:1. Their ages were between 6 to 9 years. All their perpetrators were males. In Maidugiri, about 78% of child workers had CSA.

Age matters:

The age range for those with CSA in Ebonyi state Teaching Hospital were between 6 to 9 years. Children that are as young as 6 months to 2 years are also sexually abused, but they are not reported. The peak for CSA in Nigeria is in the adolescent age.

The culture of silence:

This inability to get the exact prevalence in Nigeria is due to the culture of silence Nigerians have towards CSA. Nigerians also have this culture of silence concerning others sexual issues. When disclosure does happen, it is focused to the parents, especially the mother. And if not adequately handled by the mother, the child may retract the story. Disclosure can also be towards peers.

Reasons for non disclosure –

None disclosure of CSA, is brought about by, the feeling of blame, shame or embarrassment from family and friends.  The need to preserve family honor and virginity, or fear of exposing the child affects disclosure. Exposing the child will affect his/her future marriage or cause stigmatization. Religion can also affect disclosure. None proper or adequate prosecution of CSA perpetrators, affects disclosure or reporting.

The age of the abused child, gender, the relationship, as well as the severity of the abuse can affect disclosure. Boys are less likely to disclose due to confusion, fear of being called gay, if the perpetrator is a male. If the perpetrator is a family member, disclosure will be less likely. Thus the victim will be forced to retract any form of disclosure.

There are fears that one will not be believed, or that the parents will not care, affects disclosure. Many a times, parents believe that it is the girl’s fault that she was sexually abused. Or they may accuse her of fabricating the story. The fear of harm to the perpetrator may also prevents disclosure, this will depend on the reactions of the parents.

They fear of threat from the perpetrator that harm will come to the parents or family members. Victims are normally threatened that if they speak, the perpetrator will kill any member of the family.

Types of child molestation.

None contact:

Soliciting for intercourse from a child. This could be physically verbal or threats. It can be through online via chat rooms or other online forum. This involves sexual activities, sexual talks, or sexual information giving online.

An adult exposing oneself to a child for sexual gratification. This can involve exposing one’s private part to a child and becoming aroused while doing it.  Or the child is made to watch others engage in intercourse.

Exposing the child to pornography, be it via electronic or print media.

Selling or sending children out for prostitution or to early marriage is CSA.

Sexualizing children through dance, makes them a sexual object.  

Contact forms:

Fondling, touching any of the private parts. The adult could be touching the child, or have the child do same to the adult for sexual gratification.

Penetration could be oral, anal or vaginal intercourse.

The risk factors for being a victim or a perpetrator.

Personal risk factors:

Risk factors of victims.

Being female is a major risk factor. Females were two times more at risk than males to be sexually abused. About 31% of girls in Nigeria reported that their first intercourse was forced.

Females are more likely to be abused at an earlier age than males, and the abuse lasts longer.

Also females are more likely to report abuse. But if the sexual abuse is multiple, report is less likely.

Having a mental, developmental or physical disability raises the risk for CSA. The risk is high in children who are impulsive, abuse substance or have mental illness.

Being a member of a dysfunctional family makes the risk very high. Children from dysfunctional homes are exposed to multiple forms of abuse, like physical or psychological. In dysfunctional homes there is low social support, which hikes the risk.

Occurs more with street children who are ready to trade sex for food, shelter, money, etc. Even engaging in child labor increases vulnerability to CSA.

Risk factors of perpetrators.

Majority of CSA perpetrators in Nigeria are males.

Most perpetrators are known by the victims. And they are trusted by the children and even the family of the victims before the abuse.

These perpetrators include family members such as fathers, step fathers. Sibling perpetrators, as well as uncles, etc. this is known as incest. They can also be caregivers, domestic servants, gatemen, drivers, neighbors, teachers, pastors, Imams, etc. Incest is the most common form of CSA.

The majority of perpetrators in Nigeria are between the ages of 17 years and 65 years. And the mean age of a perpetrator is usually, three times that of the victim. Even though most perpetrators are adults, there is usually a power imbalance between the perpetrator and the victim.

Many of the perpetrators have only secondary school educational qualification. This is not to say that graduates and professors do not engage in CSA.

They can also be artisans, students, or civil servants, politicians, lecturers, etc.

And they could be those who were also sexually abused in childhood.

Those who abuse substance like alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, are at risk of perpetrating CSA.

And those with dissocial personality disorder or those who do not care about others.

Having mental illness such as bipolar disorder, etc. are risk factors.

Coming from an abusive family background. Here the CSA perpetrator as a child, make use of sex as a coping mechanism. So that by adulthood, he becomes more sexually aggressive.  

Environmental risk factors to CSA:

Children who are raised in the socioeconomically poor family households are at high risk of being victims. They stand the risk of becoming perpetrators in adulthood.

So poverty and lack of employment can be a risk factor for perpetrators.

Living in tenement buildings or overcrowded communities, poses a great risk.

Coming from a society that tolerates sexual violence, upholds male superiority and female inferiority, increases the risk.

In a society with weak laws concerning the sexual abuse of children, will give a fertile ground for the abuse.  Also where the police and legal system does not adequately support the citizens, CSA will thrive. And where the child rights policies are not adequately enforced.

In Nigeria, the erosion of the extended family system, with rapid urbanization, has increased the risk.

With the increase in community violence, baby factory, etc. CSA increases.

In the society where there is poor sex education, and the ignorance of the complications of CSA, the risk increases.

Red flags for CSA.

Outstanding characteristics of a CSA perpetrator:

A perpetrator of CSA does not respect boundaries. He touches the child at the areas that should be out of boundaries. And he can do this even in public and call the child “my wife.” He may take delight in lapping the child frequently.

Such persons are excessively friendly with the child. He or she overlooks the age difference between the perpetrator and the victim.

He or she talks freely with the child on sexual topics.

The perpetrator likes spending time alone with child. And will lie about being alone with child. He buys unnecessary gifts for the child, or gives the child money too often.

Outstanding characteristics of a CSA victim:

Discusses on sexual topics beyond what is appropriate for the child. May be preoccupied in singing sexualized songs or drawings. The child could also engage in sexual behaviors inappropriate for age.

Keeping to self and keeping secretes.

The child will not want to be left alone with certain people. Or may refuse to remove clothes to bath. And child may refuse to be examined.

Resuming to bedwetting or thumb sucking after these had earlier stopped.

The child may have sudden fear of the dark which was not originally there.

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